All the makings of a cult hit

Monday, March 4, 1991

Leningrad Cowboys Go America

Directed by Aki Kaurismaki

Academy Twin, Sydney

Reviewed by Kim Spurway

This is a quirky, offbeat comedy that may not appeal to everyone. It is the story of the Leningrad Cowboys, a Finnish band trying to break into the big time.They are told they have no commercial value in Finland and so, at the urging of their manager, they go to America, where "they will swallow any kind of shit".

They arrive in New York, and their first booking is made — a wedding party in Mexico. As they travel across the US, they discover rock 'n' roll, country and heavy metal, surviving by playing at a variety of wayside bars. They adapt their musical style to their varying audiences — bikie gangs, farmers and blacks.

This is not a story of the rise from obscurity and poverty to the achievement of the American dream; their journey takes them through the industrial wastelands and ghettos of what Kaurismaki called the "everything for sale society". They achieve success only in Mexico, where their style of music is more appreciated.

The humour is very downbeat but with many outrageous touches. It is helped along by wonderfully dry captions to introduce a scene: "hey beat him badly", "Why".

The Cowboys are ruled by a tyrannical manager who drinks and eats his way through the band's earnings, while the band itself starves. Consequently they have an in transit "Revolution", but "Democracy returns" when the manager reinstates his authority.

They are pursued by the Finnish version of the village idiot, who pursues the heroes while carrying a huge gutted fish. They also have the frozen body of their bass player strapped to the car roof in a makeshift coffin, which serves as a beer cooler for Vladimir, the manager.

This has all the makings of a cult hit — the wacky hairstyles, the impossibly long pointed shoes, the moth-eaten fur coats and the mix of Russian folk with contemporary US music. I would recommend it for those who like their humour understated and who enjoy an easygoing pace in films.

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